Look to the West: Lords of the Rhine
The Lotharingians are no strangers to Triune armies marching forth across their western border to try and seize the rich Rhineland. While formidably wealthy, they lack the manpower to go toe-to-toe with the Triunes, so their strategy has relied on a combination of fortresses and allies to counter Triune numbers. Networks of citadels (which Vauban rates higher than most of the Roman forts on the Danube; the Lotharingian ones are newer and designed with more modern and longer-ranged artillery in mind) are to stall the Triunes, giving time for Lotharingian allies, primarily the Holy Roman Emperors although once the Spanish and Arletians, to rally and send relief armies.
There are flaws in the strategy, as can be seen simply by reviewing the earlier Triune attacks. Henri II’s invasion of Lotharingia is called the Third Rhine War. The First Rhine War was from 1574-78 and was a major Triune victory, the allied intervention only serving to curb the extent of the victory. The Second Rhine War had been a humiliating Triune defeat, but only after a decade-long slog from 1609-19 that only became a humiliating Triune defeat after the Brothers’ War in the Holy Roman Empire came to an end, allowing a smashing Wittelsbach intervention.
The strategy is now utterly bankrupt. Help from the Holy Roman Empire is obviously out of the question. Hope had been placed on the Spanish Army of Observation linking up with the Bernese League and the Reichsarmee forming on the Upper Rhine in 1635, but those had been crushed by the battles of Wennenden and Mulhouse. (Wennenden prompted an anti-Roman backlash in Lotharingia. Many Lotharingian merchants in the east thus take personal pleasure in exploiting Roman commercial problems since they view the Romans as de facto Triune allies.)
It is difficult to overstate the significance of Wennenden and Mulhouse. With their prospective allies so early and comprehensively swept from the board, and the Romans acting functionally as Triune allies (the Italian affair reinforces this narrative later in the decade), Lotharingian morale is shredded at the outset. With morale at rock bottom, defeatism is rife from the start.
Given Henri II’s vast material superiority, it is likely he would’ve achieved his aims anyway, but the speed and cheapness of his offensives were aided immensely by the Roman victory at Wennenden and its follow-up at Mulhouse. Henri II was not joking when he said that Manuel Philanthropenos was his best general, and he didn’t have to give him so much as a copper coin or a hardtack biscuit.
King Albrecht III was left scrambling to come up with a new strategy. He still had his modern fortress belt and even the Triune siege train under Vauban will not be able to crack that cheaply and easily. Triune resources are vast but they are not infinite. Perhaps Triune strength can be gradually worn down by constant sieges until it is exhausted enough Henri II will be forced to make terms Albrecht III finds tolerable.
It may sound reasonable and a smart use of the strengths available to him, but there is a serious flaw in Albrecht’s new strategy. Walls are useless without guards, and forts are useless without garrisons, and those garrisons are made up by people. To truly make this process as grueling and damaging as possible, the fortresses would need to fight even after the walls were breached, forcing the Triunes to storm the citadel, taking the atrocious casualties in the process. But for the garrison to do so would be to forfeit their lives and any chance of mercy. A country with a sufficiently nationalistic populace willing to fight to the last to repel foreign invaders might be able to do so. (Even then, maybe not. None of the Roman fortresses on the Danube fought to the death.) Lotharingia is not that country.
Many of the soldiers are foreign mercenaries, who are certainly not paid enough to wage a suicidal last stand. The Lotharingian citizenry also are not willing to fight to the death. Morale is low after the news of Wennenden and Mulhouse. Albrecht’s strategy may have a chance of victory at the end of the struggle, but without the possibility of relief armies anytime soon, it means that those who oppose the Triunes now, while the Triunes are fresh, are doomed. Nobody wants to get in line to be decapitated on the grounds that after cutting through enough necks, the blade will eventually be made dull.
The Lotharingian citizenry would rather try and come to terms with the Triunes, to live their lives rather than throw them away to avert what seems inevitable anyway. Henri II has Triune presses busy making pamphlets and posters promising good treatment for Lotharingian settlements that surrender on demand. Local rights and privileges will be upheld and the right of Catholics to worship will be respected.
Another factor encouraging Lotharingians to not resist is that Bohmanism has been making impressive inroads in the last few decades. Corruption in the Catholic Church and disgust for the Inquisition have caused some to turn away. The literate and educated burghers of the port cities also are attracted to the Bohmanist doctrine of having the Scriptures in the vernacular and greater participation of the laity in the service, including communion. All this means that the religious distinction, which would’ve been the most effective tool by far of encouraging the Lotharingians to distinguish themselves from the Triunes, is gutted.
The result is that for all the Lotharingian fortresses, there are no epic sieges. There are many sieges-no mercenary garrison commander wants ‘surrenders fortress immediately’ on his work history-but for Vauban they are tedious but guaranteed affairs, something that must be done but not a task that is particularly strenuous. He writes: “On average, each Lotharingian siege lasts a month, at which time the works have progressed to a point that the garrison commander feels he can surrender with honor without undue damage to his reputation. Each siege thereby consumes about the same amount of time and shot, or sometimes somewhat less, as that of the typical Greek Danube fort, despite the latter being of inferior construction. If each Lotharingian fort had been defended by a garrison comparable in determination to those Greek garrisons instead, each work would’ve taken at least half as much again, perhaps double, the cost in time, shot, and blood then was the case in actuality.”
Another factor reducing the tendency of Lotharingian mercenary garrisons to resist heartily is that many, after surrender, promptly take up service in Triune armies. In the mercenary market by this time it is considered poor form to surrender and then promptly take service against one’s former paymaster. While common soldiers are too low on the social scale to be able to be picky, mercenary officers are often poor minor nobility who have reputations to protect even in their profession. As it is often expressed, of course a mercenary commander can be bought, but a good mercenary commander is one who is honest enough to stay bought.
This scruple is not a problem for Henri II. Those Lotharingian mercenaries can simply be posted on the Upper Rhine where they’ll be facing Germans, not Lotharingians, which frees up Triune soldiers there who can be used to reinforce the push into Lotharingia.
A more pugnacious attitude is present in the Lotharingian navy. This is not a case of nativist fleet versus mercenary army; the proportion of foreign-born to Lotharingian natives is even higher than in the army. Scandinavians and Germans are the most common sources but practically all of Europe is represented somewhere in the Lotharingian navy rolls. The captain of a Lotharingian fifth-rater is a native of Monemvasia.
The army is defeatist because without substantial allied support, the contest against the Triunes seem hopeless. Between the Eternal War and the first years of the War of the Roman Succession, the Roman Empire, through a series of logistical, administrative, and financial reforms, drastically increased the amount of military force it could bring to bear on opponents. The Triple Monarchy had undergone a similar process after the Second Rhine War; the armies dispatched east in the 1630s (not all at the Lotharingians) were 3-4 times larger than those of the 1610s. In contrast, the Lotharingian field army of 1635 is only one-quarter larger than that of 1615, although there are more fort garrisons as well.
The navy is more pugnacious simply because the odds are not so hideously stacked against it. The Lotharingian navy is comparable in size to the Triunes and has many capable and aggressive officers eager for a scrap and well able to wage successful ones. Operations in the Caribbean generally favor the Lotharingians, although not enough to make for a decisive advantage until both sides’ efforts collapse under a pile of disease corpses. Fighting in the east is an overwhelming Lotharingian victory, with Triune shipping east of Pegu practically disappearing and the Lotharingians trying to convince the Vijayanagara to provide an army for a joint attack on Triune Bengal by 1638.
The real naval contest though will be decided in the waters of the English Channel and North Sea. Lotharingian privateers snap up Triune commerce but the Triunes are well placed to do the same and it is the task of the Lotharingian fleet to stop them. Great merchant convoys from the Baltic, the Mediterranean, and the East are vital for the Lotharingian economy and war effort. Not only do they provide important supplies and funds, the convoys are mainstays for most burghers’ financial success. If the Lotharingian state is unable to protect them against Triune attack, the burghers, for the sake of their pocketbooks, would rather cut some sort of deal with the Triunes.
The fighting in 1635-36 is a mixed bag, both sides racking up victories and defeats, but none are anywhere close to decisive. The most hurtful blow to either side is in late 1636 when a Lotharingian convoy of merchantmen from the Mediterranean loops north around the British Isles to avoid the Triune fleet, running instead into a brutal storm that smashes it to pieces around Scotland. After that it is decided that it would be preferable for convoys to force the Channel escorted by the Lotharingian fleet.
The Triune admiralty has been working to find a way to score a more decisive victory; the more tangible accolades won by the army are embarrassing and the Emperor is starting to make disgruntled noises about a lack of return on his investments in naval works. The battles thus far have been free-wheeling naval melees, giant brawls on the water. These fluid disorderly engagements favor individual initiative, seamanship, and ship-handling, factors that lean Lotharingian. The Triunes want a battle that will favor their strength, the average larger size and firepower of their warships. Their solution is both simple and brilliant.
In July 1637 the Lotharingian fleet is escorting another large merchant convoy through the Channel when it is challenged by the Triune fleet off Wissant. This has happened many times before and the Lotharingians expect the same drill. The two fleets will pile into each other and slug it out for a while, with one side perhaps gaining a bit of the upper hand, but the battle breaking off before that becomes too noticeable. And while the Triune fleet is occupied, the convoy makes a clean getaway to Lotharingian harbors.
This time the story is different. The Triune fleet forms into a massive line-of-battle, confusing the Lotharingians who nevertheless pitch into the fray with their usual fervor. But the newfound control and concentration of the Triunes, combined with the immense firepower at their disposal (the seven Triune first-raters alone have more firepower than the combined Roman field armies at Thessaloniki), is utterly devastating. Out of 89 Lotharingian warships , twenty six are sent to the bottom by Triune gunnery or captured, with practically the rest of the fleet badly shot up.
The disadvantage of the line-of-battle shows as the remaining three-quarters of the Lotharingian fleet, despite its battered state, is able to make a clean getaway along with the convoy which doesn’t lose a single merchantmen. But Wissant is nevertheless an utterly crushing Triune victory. Many Triune ships are also shot up but only two of 90 were lost (although one is a second-rater that got burned down by a fire-ship); the post-Wissant Triune fleet is in a much better place for combat than the gutted Lotharingians. After Wissant the Triunes are able, for the first time in the war, to impose a credible blockade on the Lotharingian coast. Aside from hurting the Lotharingians, this helps the Triunes to start getting a handle on the privateer problem.
Even if the Lotharingian fleet put back out to sea, after Wissant it would now face a substantial numerical disadvantage. Furthermore while the Lotharingians could copy the line-of-battle tactic, which is not complicated, their smaller ships are just at a disadvantage in such a toe-to-toe slugging match. The shallow waters of the Lotharingian coast just do not favor the construction of big second and first-raters, which are what are needed to counter the Triune models.
That is assuming the Lotharingians even got time to build them. In August 1637, Vauban begins closing in on Antwerp, the Lotharingian capital, after having cleared the outlying forts. The Lotharingian field army, for the first time in the war, tries a contest in the open to stop a siege of Antwerp. Despite being renowned as a siege and not a field commander, Vauban mauls the Lotharingians, but he did have a 2-to-1 numerical advantage in all categories. King Albrecht, seeing no hope, decides to sue for peace while he still holds some cards.
The resulting Treaty of Antwerp is a spectacular triumph for the Triple Monarchy. Every bit of Lotharingian territory on the left side of the Rhine is ceded to the Triunes, a huge swathe of rich territory from Flanders to Lorraine. From the Rhine Delta to Mulhouse, the only lord of the left bank of the Rhine is Henri II.
The conquered territories, along with the sequestered lands of the Bishops of Metz, Toul, Verdun, and Liege, are all incorporated into the holdings of the Kingdom of France. (As the chief center of armaments manufacture in Western Europe, Liege is a particular prize.) Several of them, such as Flanders, have historical ties to France, with the rest making for administrative convenience. Henri promises to respect local rights and privileges as well as freedom for Catholics to worship privately and in small churches, although the big cathedrals are taken for Bohmanist use.
All this is reluctantly but officially recognized by the Spanish and Arletians, who at this time are trying to add Henri II to the potential coalition against Rhomania in Italy. The Spanish and Arletians can do nothing to stop this Triune coup anyway, and in late 1637 their concern is stopping the Romans from pulling a comparable coup in Italy where the Spanish and Arletians can do something. A Triune conquest of the Rhineland and a Roman conquest of Italy are equally destabilizing hammer blows to the current balance of power and the later can still be prevented. Furthermore while the Triunes can be used to counteract the Romans, the last time the Romans got involved in the Rhineland, they ended up massively helping the Triunes.
Albrecht III still has his crown, retreating to his holdings on the right bank of the Rhine. They are still respectable in size, but definitely a poor cousin to the lands he lost. His new capital of Amsterdam is described as a ‘moderately prosperous cheese-port’, a far cry from Antwerp, one of the three great marts of Christendom alongside Lisbon and Constantinople. Furthermore he is now a vassal of the Triune Emperor, Henri II.
He does get a few concessions. While the 8 largest Lotharingian warships are signed over to Triune control, Albrecht keeps the rest of his fleet. Furthermore it is decreed that any Lotharingian merchants who wish to change their base of operations from Triune Lotharingia to Lotharingia can do so within the next year without paying any charges or tariffs. This is less helpful to Albrecht than it sounds as many merchants, wanting access to the Rhineland trade and the huge Triune market, stay where they are. Antwerp still needs to be fed with Baltic rye, after all, and Liege guns still need to be exported to buyers.
The one exception are those active in Island Asia. Henri agrees to recognize all of the Lotharingian successes over Triunes there, reasoning that he needs to give some sugar to Albrecht to go with the bitter swallow. Furthermore, like most Triunes not actively involved with business in Island Asia, Henri II doesn’t see much in it. Triune Bengal is far more impressive and profitable, so a few trading posts on some islands further east seem like little loss.
The Lotharingians though are giddy with this concession and the merchants who trade in the East move their base of operations promptly to Amsterdam. Bengal produces many goods in demand in Island Asia but since the Triunes have no posts there they can’t sell them. The Lotharingians fill the niche, taking Bengali textiles to Mataram and trading them for pepper. They then either ship the pepper to Europe (and probably sell it to the Triunes) or take it to Pyrgos and trade for Chinese porcelain, silk, and tea, and then ship those to Europe and sell it to the Triunes.
Henri II is unaware of those implications, which don’t become clear for several years anyway. Even with some of the eastern trade diverted to Amsterdam, Antwerp is still a far bigger and bustling port, so it’s doubtful he’d be bothered anyway. Compared to his gains, it’s a minor loss. Europe is like the east. In the eastern trade, long-distance shipment of spices dominate the attention of moderns, but it is the local carrying trade that is the real money-maker. In Europe the shipment of humble goods, timber, metals, fish, grains, and the like, get far less attention from moderns than traffic in goods more shiny, but like the east, these simple trades and traders are the bedrock of commerce. No starving man ever bought a silk shirt.
The Treaty of Antwerp exemplifies Henri’s aims at this time. He wants direct control of everything west of the Rhine. However on the east bank, to secure his conquests, he wants a series of vassal buffer states. With Lotharingia, it is fairly easy; there is only one prince with which he must deal (the bishops are too weak to matter). The Holy Roman Empire on the other hand promises to be far more complicated.
 At this time, ships that just a few years later would be considered too small for the battle-line are still used in the melee.